Skip to Main Content

Avoiding Plagiarism

This guide provides resources to define plagiarism and practical tips on how to avoid it.

What Is Plagiarism? defines plagiarism as follows:

"Many people think of plagiarism as copying another's work, or borrowing someone else's original ideas, but terms like "copying" and "borrowing" can disguise the seriousness of the offense"

According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, to "plagiarize" means

  • to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another as one's own
  • to use (another's production) without crediting the source
  • to commit literary theft
  • to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source

In other words, plagiarism is an act of fraud.  It involves both stealing someone else's work and lying about it afterward."

Common Knowledge

You may hear that things that are "common knowledge" need not be documented or cited, but what is "common knowledge," and how do you know if something is common knowledge?  Generally speaking it is a fact that is fully documented in many places and is known by many people.  However, simply being on Wikipedia or any other Internet site does not make something common knowledge.

For example:

  • The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941.

Facts that are not common knowledge or your personal interpretation or paraphrasing of ideas must be documented.

For example:  

  •   Fifteen men received the Medal of Honor for their actions at Pearl Harbor.
  •   The United States was warned of the attack at least one week before it occurred, but that warning was ignored.


Research v. Plagiarism

"It is normal and common practice to use the ideas of others for academic research and study.  New discoveries and ideas are usually based upon the research findings, observations or ideas of other people (researchers, scientists, scholars, etc.).  This is how scholarship is produced and perpetuated.  When one uses the ideas of another, one must 'give credit where credit is due' and that is back to the authors or originators of those ideas.  By not acknowledging the authors or originators of the ideas you are using, especially when writing papers or addressing a forum, you are committing plagiarism.

Here are some examples of plagiarism:

  • Using or copying research data that was the result of a study done by others without citing the source.
  • Quoting words or ideas from online, electronic, or printed resources such as articles or books without acknowledging the author(s).
  • Copying or purchasing a paper and handing it in as your own work.
  • Falsely creating a citation that doesn't exist.
  • Failing to credit and cite someone else's thoughts or ideas when paraphrasing.
  • Paraphrasing in a way that relies too heavily on another's language or syntax."

Ke, Irene and Loretta Wallace. "Avoiding Plagiarism" guide. University of Houston Libraries

A Tutorial on Plagiarism

This tutorial, available from LIONTV: Library Information Literacy Online Network, provides a good overview of plagiarism and how to avoid it.